George Mason University
Novels provide us with lush spaces full of rich sociological details about people, cultures, social structures, and social networks. I use novels in my Sociology 120 class to help students see the human face of the social and global processes we learn about. We cover topics related to colonialism and its legacy on race, gender, and class in today's world; visual culture and its impact on how we see the world; environmental issues; feminism and women's rights globally; and inequality in global migration. These topics can be both abstract and heavy for undergraduate students to comprehend. Therefore, as part of the course, students choose a novel from a list of carefully selected books that directly connect to many of the topics and themes covered in class. Novels cover countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, and Ghana and topics such as war, colonialism, military occupation, forced migration, dispossession, nationalism, life under authoritarian regimes, patriarchy, women's issues, and religion. The students are required to meet with other students (I put them in groups at the beginning of the semester) three times a semester for 45-60 minutes to discuss the novel, their thoughts about the novel, and the connections between the novel and the course materials. In my experience, students are initially apprehensive about this project because they do not like to read or need guidance in how to develop their critical thinking skills. However, by the end of the semester I am able to observe through the production of their papers that students are able to generate more consequential understandings of the social and global processes they learn about throughout the semester. Students are able to learn about other cultures and countries in a fun way and take a break from sometimes heavy academic readings. They are able to more easily connect the events occurring in the novels with their course readings.